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Brer Coon is Brer Rabbit’s best friend

Posted in America, Animals, Anthropology, Literature, Myth, Wildlife on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

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This edited article about the racoon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Coon, picture, image, illustration

Brer Rabbit and Brer Coon by Henry Fox

Although the true racoon is native only to North America, it is one of the best-known wild animals in the world because of its appearance again and again in the Brer Rabbit stories of Uncle Remus. Indeed, Brer Coon is just as famous as Brer Rabbit himself.

The racoon belongs to a group of carnivorous (flesh eating) animals called by zoologists procyonidae. It is a close relative of the bear, but is much smaller and, unlike the bear, has a respectable tail.

An adult racoon is about three feet long (including a ten-inch tail). It was once the commonest of animals in America and was found over an area from Canada to Mexico. Then the froutiersmen relentlessly hunted it for its fur, which was made into the famous Davy Crockett hats.

Until quite recently the racoon was the most important for-bearing animal of North America. Less than a century ago much of the buying and selling in the Mississippi valley was done by using racoon skins as money.

The racoon is an animal of the night and is seldom seen by day except in cloudy weather. There is a saying among American farmers that if you catch a glimpse of Brer Coon in the daytime rain cannot be far away.

It usually makes its home high up in the hollow of some large tree, often preferring a dead limb to the tree trunk itself. Sometimes, however, it chooses a hollow log on the ground, or may even take over a burrow in the ground made by some other animal. Wherever it lives, the racoon spends the day dozing.

Then when night falls it wakes up and sets off in search of a late dinner. But at the slightest hint of danger it rushes up the nearest tree, climbing at an amazing speed with its long, sharp claws.

Racoons are mighty hunters of small birds, rats and frogs. They are also particularly fond of all kinds of birds’ eggs, and often thrust their long front paws into the holes of trees to take eggs from woodpeckers’ nests. If there are no wild birds about, they will raid the poultry runs on farms to steal the farmers’ eggs and chickens.

Brer Coon is so fond of eggs of any kind that he will lie watching turtles lay their eggs in the sand. When the turtle has gone, Brer Coon moves in and digs them up.

Despite the fact that its feet are thin and have no webs, the racoon is an expert swimmer and can dive into rivers at lightning speed to catch fish under water, grabbing them with its forepaws.

Whatever it has caught to eat, the racoon always carries it to the nearest tree where it sits up with its back to the trunk. It holds its meat between its hind paws, picking off pieces and carrying them to its mouth with its front paws.

Another curious feeding habit of the racoon is that it always washes its food in a river or stream before eating. It even does this with the fish it catches. No one has yet been able to find the reason for this strange practice.

Because of its liking for poultry and their eggs and also for vegetables and grain crops, the racoon is looked upon as a pest in many farming districts of America. The farmers organize hunts with packs of dogs called “coon” hounds, driving the victims up trees and then shooting them down.

The female racoon has a litter of five or six babies which are born in the spring.

As soon as they are able to walk and climb, the young racoons go hunting at night with their parents. When they are a year old, they leave their parents and set up homes of their own.

In autumn the racoon looks out for a really comfortable home and immediately winter sets in it hibernates. But if the weather turns warm Brer Coon wakes up and goes off to find some thing to eat.

There is a larger species of racoon native to South America. It has exceptionally powerful teeth which it uses for crunching up the crabs which it catches and eats. It is called the crab-eating racoon to distinguish it from its North American cousin.

Racoon is the English spelling of aroughcun, the Indian name for the animal.

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